Utah History Encyclopedia


By Robert S. McPherson

Hovenweep National Monument

Located astride the southeastern Utah/southwestern Colorado border, Hovenweep National Monument is comprised of six ruin clusters--four in Colorado, two in Utah--all of which are perched on the canyon rims and along the drainage of the area. The name, derived from the Ute language and meaning "deserted valley," was first used when William H. Jackson visited the site in 1874.

Anasazi occupation started between A.D. 250-450 (Basketmaker II) and continued to around A.D. 1300 (Pueblo III). The people of Hovenweep were culturally similar to those living at Mesa Verde; they adopted a corn, beans, and squash-based agriculture; constructed square, oval, circular, and D-shaped towers; manufactured and traded related pottery types; and built kivas and houses of identical construction. The earliest agricultural activities centered on the mesa tops where the Anasazi employed dry farming techniques. Starting in the early 1200s, the use of canyon bottoms, springs, and seeps became prevalent, suggesting a shift to more permanent water sources.

The most prominent feature of Hovenweep is its towers, which are divided into two general types. The first type is the isolated tower located on boulders or mesa edges, often found in pairs, and lighted by portholes and small windows. The second consists of integrated towers associated with room blocks or kiva clusters. Archaeologists disagree about the use of these buildings, variously suggesting that they possibly served as lookouts, signal towers, defense posts, celestial observatories, granaries, habitations, and/or ceremonial structures. Recent studies have shown that at least three ruins have small windows or portholes that align with the solstices and equinoxes. Another study showed that each tower could be seen by at least two other towers or ruins, which suggests that they might have served as signal stations, although many of the structures appear to have had a variety of functions. Most were built around A.D. 1230, just seventy years before the general Anasazi abandonment of the Four Corners region.